The North Carolina-Israel Partnership, a nonprofit group strongly supported by Governor Jim Hunt, is the subject of a federal investigation, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Agents from the FBI and the Department of Defense have requested records for some of the 17 state grants and contracts awarded to the group since 1996.
The investigation may embarrass Hunt, who helped launch the group in 1995. Five members of his inner circle sit on the foundation’s board and the partnership links itself to the governor’s office on its letterhead, the N&O reports.
Investigators will not reveal the nature of their inquiry. Among the documents they have requested are records that track state money used to pay for a trip to Israel last year for a group including five state legislators.
Investigators have tracked state funds that moved from the N.C. Board of Science and Technology, to MCNC, formerly the Microelectronic Center of North Carolina, to the partnership, the N&O reports.
MCNC president William Kress told the N&O that none of the payments to the partnership or to Israeli airline El Al for travel appear to be legitimate business expenses and that MCNC may have to repay the money.
“I am really mad about this,” Kress told the N&O a few days later. “MCNC is going to come out of this with egg on its face, or worse.”
The NC-Israel Partnership was touted as a way to increase trade as economic, scientific and cultural relationships with Israel. State exports to Israel have decreased by about 22 percent since the partnership was incorporated in 1995, however, and some question the governor’s motives to create the partnership.
Health and Human Services Director David Bruton, one of four cabinet members on the partnership board, suggests that Hunt used the group to build political alliances and prepare for a future with the federal government.
“I think he knows you can’t be a national politician without knowing about and having some connection to the large Jewish movement in America,” Bruton told the N&O.
Hunt denies Bruton’s charges and says he has no national political aspirations, the N&O reports.